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Make: Projects – Soda Can Label Embossing

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Make: Projects – Soda Can Label Embossing

Positive response to the recent review of my antique Tapewriter label embosser got me thinking about lower-cost ways to make embossed aluminum labels. A comment from reader Rick Hyde (“Actually, the aluminum is so ductile that I bet any Dymo machine can emboss it.”) led me to wonder about feeding aluminum strip to one of the inexpensive, “grocery store” label makers designed for plastic tape, and when I began looking for accessible sources of thin aluminum sheet metal my first thought was to use soda cans.

Experiment proved that yes, soda can metal embosses well enough in a small plastic-tape embosser, but there were three main problems:

  1. Cutting uniform strips of out of the side of a soda can was not easy.
  2. At 0.003″, soda can metal is much thinner than plastic embossing tape (0.011″), and does not advance reliably through the mechanism.
  3. Though the metal cuts easily with scissors, doing so tends to raise burrs that interfere with smooth feeding.

The first two problems were solved by using a paper spiral-cutting template designed in software, printed onto an adhesive-backed label, and wrapped around the can before cutting. The template guidelines make it easy to cut a strip of uniform width, and the adhesive paper, if left in place during the embossing operation, brings the thickness up to 0.009″ and eliminates feeding problems.

Finally, the burr-raising problem was solved by using nibbling shears, instead of scissors, to make the cut. A small burr is still produced, but it is easily smoothed by “stropping” the cut strip against a leather strap. Detailed instructions are here.


16 thoughts on “Make: Projects – Soda Can Label Embossing

  1. Josh J says:

    Aluminum, Stainless Steel and Monel tapes are available with or without adhesive. I’m not sure if they’d work in the cheap plastic Dymo’s but work well in the M-33/M-22.

    1. Sean Ragan says:

      They do, actually. Or at least, the aluminum kind does. I cut a piece of the 1/2″ aluminum tape from my Tapewriter down to 3/8″ to fit in my cheap labelmaker, and it embosses well enough. Problem is you can’t get it in anything but 1/2″ width. And it’s easier to cut it out of the side of a can than it is to cut an even 1/8″ slice off the side of the 1/2″ tape.

  2. lasershark says:

    great idea but why the expensive tools? scissors or craft knife will do for cutting aluminium. craft knife and metal ruler on cutting mat for accurate clean strips.

    1. lasershark says:

      used double sided sticky tape, craft knife and ruler. works a treat. thanks for the tip! cheapo dymo label maker has come out of retirement and projects now have shiny new labels.

    2. Sean Ragan says:

      Thanks! But my nibbling shear cost $8 at Harbor Freight. And there’s no way to put a soda can on a cutting mat without flattening it, first, which requires cutting the cylinder, which means the longest continuous strip you can get out of it is about 8″. If you cut it “in the round” it will give a continuous 4′ strip.

  3. Travis G says:

    For both uniformity and easy cutting use an old school paper cutter. After you are done make sure to resharpen the paper cutter by cutting some sand paper.

  4. Nathan Strawbridge says:

    I’ll bet you could rig one of those old-fashioned New England Apple Peelers to uniformly cut the aluminum can…

  5. ARES E-Letter Issues | NOAA says:

    […] is an interesting DIY project for labeling your equipment with tape. This tape should be fairly permanent if you use pop rivets to fasten it to something. […]

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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